Windows devices powered by Arm processors have been using 64-bit processors for a while now, but just as we’ve seen in the Android world, support for 32-bit instruction sets and apps usually sticks around for a few years after that. That’s been the case with Windows 10 and 11, too, which still support apps compiled for Arm32 today. However, that’s going to change with Windows 12 and the next-generation Oryon processor from Qualcomm.
During one of the sessions at this year’s Build, it was confirmed that the next generation of Windows, as well as future Qualcomm silicon, will drop support for Arm32 apps. This will mostly affect older apps that were compiled for Windows 10 Mobile and haven’t been updated for Arm64 or x86 architectures, so it shouldn’t significantly impact most users, but there’s a chance that you’re still using some apps that are compiled for Arm32, and those will stop working if they’re not updated.
Of course, looking at the history of other platforms that primarily run on Arm, like Android or iOS, dropping support for 32-bit apps was a long time coming, so this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. However, this does give us a timeframe for when that support will cease to exist. Qualcomm’s Oryon processor is expected to launch at some point in 2024, if all goes according to plan. Qualcomm has been in a legal battle with Arm due to a potential violation of its licensing agreements after the acquisition of Nuvia, which could result in some delays. Essentially, Qualcomm is hoping to use Nuvia technology to build more powerful Arm processors for PCs, but Arm argues that this goes against its licensing terms.
Qualcomm is the only company making Arm processors for Windows PCs right now, though we know this is due to an exclusivity deal that could be expiring soon. Technically, it’s possible that other companies will make Arm-based processors with Arm32 support, but if Windows itself won’t support them, that won’t really matter.
According to Microsoft documentation, support for Arm32 apps will be discontinued in a “future version of Windows 11“, though it’s not clear when this version is coming or what it is. But it’s safe to say that at the very least, Windows 12 won’t support it when it does launch. That’s also expected to happen in 2024, based on recent reports, so it’s safe to assume that by next year, Arm32 support will almost certainly be gone from Windows PCs. For now, Microsoft’s documentation also provides guidance on how to transition Arm32 apps to Arm64, which will ensure those apps remain usable.